Social Media Lessons Learned From MTV

MTV ad
From TV’s heyday to social media- engaging an audience has changed… or has it?

Long before the advent of social media on August 1, 1981 – to the strains of “Video Killed the Radio Star” two worlds changed: music and television. No longer would television be considered “broad”cast and music escaped the confines of radio. Soon… those of us lucky enough to have cable, were treated to the likes of David Bowie, Cindy Lauper, Billy Idol and many other rock stars with a single cry: “I want my MTV”.

I want my MTV

“I want my MTV” Ad on Youtube 1 and  Ad On Youtube 2 

MTV (and ESPN before it in 1979) redefined media. But MTV did something even better, it showed us that every media has a native language: the one thing that the audience is there for. People tune in to cable because they want specialized programming. It could be news, it could be music, it could be sports… but it is certainly something that the viewer is not finding anywhere else.

From a communications point of view it makes all the sense to adapt the advertising on each cable channel category to its content. However, it hasn’t been until lately, when the internet has forced many advertisers to come to terms with concepts such as “multi-media”, “platforms” and “engagement” that we have seen advertisers customizing their messaging by channel.

When magazines were king

In 1991 when we launched Plenitude in Mexico, magazines were an important part of our media strategy. One of the cornerstones of L’Oreal’s communication strategy is treating women as intelligent consumers and, as a result, there is always an “objective” message that explains the product (and justifies the cost). But, the regular ads were just not making it. I proposed we used advertorials. After all, women turned to publications like Vanidades, Buenhogar and Cosmopolitan for widely different reasons but with one purpose: read something. So it did not make sense to use the same ad in every magazine.

We worked with the magazines and created customized advertorials for each magazine’s editorial slant. Plenitude achieved a 19% SOM in year one. Not that advertorials were 100% responsible; the product is great, the price is right… but speaking to consumers in a language that is more relevant to them makes a difference. L’Oreal decided to continue including advertorials in the Plenitude bundle and, at the time, it was the only time that L’Oreal accepted a variation to their media bundle.

With each medium, understanding the native language of that medium will improve results substantially.


If people read newspapers to get information, it makes all the sense in the world for your newspaper ads to be information-slanted. At the same time, the typical newspaper values speed and conciseness, meaning that your ads or advertorials ought to be brief and to the point in how they present information.


Radio is one of the most interesting media in that sense; its native language is personality-driven and it is telling that most successful formats in the most successful stations in radio’s equivalent of prime time, early morning, is personality-driven. Radio develops an intimacy with its audience that is hard to beat and even a casual listen to talk radio or early morning adult-contemporary stations will show the kind of audience engagement that most of us dream about. So it makes all the sense in the world to leverage that voice.

The radio production is realatively inexpensive –a few thousand per spot—should allow advertisers to customize their messaging almost down to their station. Yet, many advertisers still insist on harsh, dry, advertising in the belief that “intrusiveness” drives response. Car dealer advertising is a great example of that attitude. Ultimately, however, the numbers speak for themselves. In a city the size of Miami, for example, a typical car dealer spot might reach 20,000 or 25,000 people yet, every one of those ads might draw 10 people to a dealership. Even factoring out the obvious: not everyone in the audience is in the market for a car at a given time, the response is not great.

Internet advertising and social media

Today social media through the internet and mobile are two of our major media pillars. It is important to understand its many native languages in order to improve the effectiveness of our advertising.

Facebook is a key social media player and the workhorse of internet advertising today. It is where most consumers spend the most time when visiting the web. And it is full of advertising that just doesn’t cut it. Take these, for example, from my Home page:

social media

On the one hand, it is clear that Facebook doesn’t know what to do with my timeline: a marketing ad (I am in Marketing, after all); a photography course ad (I have 2 photo pages) but then a phone ad and a meditation ad.

The first two “fit” my interests but all of them are talking “to me” as opposed to doing what most of my friends will be doing in my timeline, which is “sharing something with me”. Whether some news, gossip or personal tidbit, that’s why we use social media and go to Facebook.

Now compare it to this ad for Honda:

Honda social media

Yes it is branded Honda and additionally:


    • It tells a story


    • It tries to involve the reader by asking about adventures in a Honda (and, in that sense, it is derivative of a campaign Mercedes Benz had years ago)


    • The hashtag (#) invites further exploration


    • The quality of the photo is lousy… exactly the same kind of photo that 95% of all Facebook users post in their timelines


  • It guides you to a website. The website itself (and I invite you to explore it) is full of little ads like these.

So all in all, this social media ad seems engaging and the numbers support it. In 29 minutes:







This ad is not using the second “native” characteristic of the web: video. It could have easily delivered a short clip of the “adventure”, making it yet more effective.

There are other forms, of course. People love to participate in polls so, sometimes, it seems like a great thing to do.



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